Are You Ready For A Coral Reef Aquarium?

So you’ve been bitten by the reefkeeping bug and you’re hankering to go shopping for a new tank and equipment for your new coral reef aquarium.

You’ve done some research (and hopefully read through the various pages on and you’ve picked out the location in your den, man-cave or living room where your new tank will take center stage and impress friends and relatives.

coral reef aquarium

A stunning coral reef aquarium

But before you take the plunge into the joys and perils of reefkeeping, here’s a list of reasons of why you should not set up a coral reef aquarium!

You lack experience in keeping any kind of saltwater tank

This one should be pretty obvious, but many hobbyists get sucked into starting a coral reef aquarium straight away. They buy a bunch of exotic corals and more fish than they should, and put everything into their glass box of a tank.

Only to see everything progressively die over the next couple of weeks.

Get you feet wet — literally and figuratively — by starting out with a fish-only with live rock (FOWLR) aquarium first.

The only kinds of corals a total beginner should keep would be hardy leather corals, zoanthids and mushrooms.

pink zoas

Pink zoanthids — excellent beginner’s coral

You have no time to maintain a coral reef aquarium and you hate doing chores!

Simply put, coral reef aquariums need attention and will take up a reasonable chunk of your time. Factor in tasks like feeding the fish, target feeding corals, weekly water changes, cleaning the protein skimmer, pumps and powerheads and regular water parameter testing, and you can count on putting in at least three hours a week on your tank.

Three hours a week doesn’t sound like much, but we are talking about a long-term commitment of many years. And it is no surprise that once enthusiastic hobbyists soon grow weary of doing tank chores and start neglecting regular maintenance on their tanks. Be prepared for years of doing tank chores if you commit to a coral reef aquarium, or any saltwater aquarium for that matter.

Many LFS’s now offer maintenance contracts where they will go to your home or office to routinely clean and maintain your tank. So if you don’t have the time or hate doing routine tank chores, pay a professional.

You are unable to bear the costs of maintaining a coral reef aquarium

Whether in the short or long-term, maintaining a coral reef aquarium is going to cost you more than a simple FOWLR tank.

Aquarium equipment alone will set you back a pretty penny. You will need an expensive aquarium lighting fixture for photosynthesis, a chiller to keep water temperatures from getting too high under your expensive aquarium lighting fixture, a powerful protein skimmer to keep your water clean, wavemakers to keep everything moving just like in nature, a 100w return pump, reef supplements and specialized coral foods, and test kits to make sure your water parameters are in check.

Top it all off with high electricity costs to run your expensive lights, chiller, protein skimmer and pumps and you will soon realize that running a coral reef aquarium is an expensive, long-term proposition.

In Singapore, where I live, electricity costs for my tank alone (without factoring in other domestic usage like lights, refrigerator and airconditioning) run about $100 a month or $1200 a year!

You travel a lot and have no one to take care of your coral reef aquarium in your absence

This one applies to both fish-only and coral reef aquariums.

As any reefkeeper will tell you, they worry about the welfare of their coral reef aquarium when they are travelling and away from their tank.

And sometimes this worry can border on paranoia.

Was there a power outage? Has a fish jumped out of the tank because there was no cover for the aquarium? Has the chiller pump failed causing the chiller to run dry and burn itself out? Has the return pump failed, cutting off circulation to the sump and filtration system?

For peace of mind, I always get a friend or relative to come over once every 2 days when I’m away on holiday to feed the fish, and make sure that things like the return pump, powerheads, chiller and aquarium lighting are working as they should.

And it is always a relief to come home after a long vacation, to open the front door, and see that everything in my coral reef aquarium is doing fine. I can’t imagine leaving my aquarium alone for more than a couple of days without a tank-sitter!

You don’t have the space for a coral reef aquarium

As we learned in our article on Aquarium Tank Size | Length, Width and Height, the larger the volume of the aquarium, the more stable the water parameters will be. Small tanks are prone to water parameter fluctuations especially when it comes to pH, salinity and water temperature.

Coral reef aquariums require very stable water parameters. Corals, after all, evolved in the vast ocean depths where fluctuations are nearly unmeasurable over a 24 hour period.

When it comes to setting up a coral reef aquarium, I recommend nothing less than a 75-gallon tank. The bigger the better. A typical 75-gallon, ready-made aquarium would measure 48″ x 18″ x 20″ (length, width and height)

Bear in mind that you will need to install an aquarium sump to hold your skimmer, chiller pump and return pump.

While it is certainly possible to set up a small coral reef aquarium of 50 gallons or less without a sump, be prepared to test water parameters regularly, turn on the airconditioner to keep temperatures down, and ensure that weekly water changes are performed religiously!

Read more about:

The Nitrogen Cycle

Ideal Water Parameters For A Reef Aquarium

Water Parameters | Danger Levels!

Ideal Location For Your Saltwater Aquarium In Your Home

Saltwater Aquarium Setup | A Step-By-Step Guide

Custom-Built Glass Aquariums


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